There be dragons!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Her cancer

I had lost all thought that she was my wife.

All time stopped in that fierce apocalypse.

She dozed, drowsy, exhausted from the swim

The riptide of death and the incessant overwhelming waves.

She had gone where I could not go.

Her life was her own no more mine,

And in silence she conversed with herself and with pain.

Where in all this ragbag of guts

Is such a mystery of man contained?

And why, not knowing my bride just then,

Did I fall in love with her again?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eros Four

A thousand fires in my heart tonight
In the place where my love's memory lies
Where late the cicada croaked on the wind
Licked at the base of the coniferous pines;
There lies the dryness of the serotinous cone
And all that the world's ignorance allows
Or disavows.

A thousand ashes in my heart tonight
In the place where my love's memory lies
Where late perched the hawk athwart the boughs to stoop
Piled upon ashes and the impending snow;
There was the comfort of the charred Monterey
And all that the world's diversions provide
Yet cannot hide.

A thousand snowfalls in my heart tonight,
In the place where my love’s memory lies
Where late sifted the owl on whispering wing
Echoed amidst the rocks and the frozen firs;
There lies the deep and dim indifference of the night
And all that the world’s emptiness gives
Or steals, or borrows.

A thousand rain drops in my heart tonight
In the place where my love's memory lies
Where late the nightingale and the whippoorwill sang
Hissed in silence on the resinous bark;
There lies the dark eternal twist of the fir
And all that the world's silence gives
And the expanse above.

The Exile of the Poets

In Book X of the Republic Socrates suggests that for the city to be perfect the poets (and all other arts by extension) must all be exiled citing “an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry”. Indeed, artwork is "that 'yelping bitch shrieking at her master,' and 'great in the empty eloquence of fools.' But the real reason of the exile is due to the comfort which art gives. Artwork becomes overly comforting and charms us into a false sense of security, yet offers no real solution to the problem:

…if poetry directed to pleasure and imitation have any argument to give showing that they should be in a city with good laws, we should be delighted to receive them back from exile, since we are aware that we ourselves are charmed by them. But it isn’t holy to betray what seems to be the truth.

Artwork charms the soul yet its “imitation is surely far from the truth.” Artwork is, in a way, a form of wizardry, an illusion which, even in its best form, only imitates the real but is not the real; “the maker of the phantom, the imitator, we say, understands nothing of what is but rather of what looks like it is.” The image which music, art, sculpture, or story creates captures some essential part of reality and as well as it captures reality we say it is “true”. Truth is the proximity of image (eikon) to the real. But between eikones and the good/real there is always a gulf, a lacuna or abyss, which cannot easily be breached; art is still only shadows on the cave wall. We have no assurance that any of the stories we tell, or music we enjoy, or artwork we pleasure in viewing has any connection to anything real; it may just be pleasant fairy tales told to children in order to prevent night fears. Art may be no more than “lies breathed through silver.”

If this is the case man is left with a terrible, unhealing wound. If our art does not connect to reality than how are we to know that we haven’t had generation after generation lying to each other and building on the lies until we no longer know the truth? Do we act the part of iconoclast and tear all the images down? It seems Plato is suggesting exactly that, when he suggests abandoning the old loves of our youth;

…just like the men who have once fallen in love with someone, and don’t believe the love is beneficial, keep away from it even if they have to do violence to themselves; so we too – due to the inborn love of such poetry we owe to our rearing in these fine regimes – we’ll be glad if it turns out that it is best and truest. But as long as it’s not able to make its apology, when we listen to it, we’ll chant this argument we are making to ourselves as a countercharm, taking care against falling back again into this love, which is childish and belongs to the many.
Our love cannot be childish; frivolously devoid of worry, responsibility, or gravitas, focused on insufficient things, seeking only self-gratification. Rather it must be strengthened by enduring its own possible non-being. What assurance does one have that he is loved? Love, like artwork, has no assurance that it is anything more than words. It cannot be measured, weighed, held in the hand. But if we are to value love as it ought to be valued it is incumbent on us to grow up, face the abyss of non-being, and realize that artwork & love are and are not real.

We are, at all events, aware that such poetry mustn’t be taken seriously as a serious thing laying hold of truth, but that the man who hears it must be careful, fearing for the regime in himself, and must hold what we have said about poetry.

The Er myth begins with battle, death and fire – Er is on the pyre when he wakes up from his visionary journey to the afterlife. Those hearing his vision have no absolute assurance that what he says is true, accept that a theophanic miracle has occurred; he has risen from the dead and so ought to know. But the battle, death and fire are themselves metaphorical for that apocalypse of the heart in which all things are transfigured and made new. Without such a transformation one’s loves, belief and understanding of art, life itself remain in an childish world of unquestioning fantasy, insensate and oblivious to the world around us. Real life is not possible in this state any more than it is possible in the realm of the tyrant who imposes his own will. One cannot be a tyrant or a child but must

… accept the fall of the dice and settle one’s affairs accordingly – in whatever way argument declares would be best. One must not behave like children who have stumbled and who hold on to the hurt place and spend their time in crying out; rather one must always habituate the soul to turn as quickly as possible to curing and setting aright what has fallen and is sick, doing away with lament by medicine.

What we are up against, our own misery, loneliness, and unavoidable annihilation are so daunting a hurt that they may leave us howling. But in this, Plato seems to suggest, we have to be men. Life is terrifying; our own oblivion almost unbearable. Yet we must look into it; we have to grapple with the angel of destruction and in that barren landscape have all our most cherished images and stories stripped away in an apocalypse of iconoclasm. Only then is the new heaven and earth able to occur; only then can the myth of Er be granted as something truly beautiful evocative of love.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rollin A. Lasseter III 1939 - 2008

November 6, 1939 – May 12, 2008

Passed away at his home in Granger, IN is Dr. Rollin A. Lasseter. Born in Nashville, TN, he attended Montgomery Bell Academy and graduated from Vanderbilt University. He was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to graduate school. At Vanderbilt he led his team for three contests on national television’s popular “College Bowl.” In 1969 he received his Ph.D in English from Yale University. He was named “Teacher of the Year” twice at the University of Kentucky, was invited to direct the Honors Program there and eventually joined the English faculty at North Carolina State University, where he was given tenure. He taught at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, IN, as well as Trinity School at Greenlawn and the University of Dallas, TX. After retiring he shaped the Catholic Schools Textbook Project as director, editor and primary writer. He died on the morning of May 12, 2008 surrounded by family and loved ones. He is survived by his wife, Ruth Davis Lasseter of Indianapolis, IN, as well as his sisters Nancy L. Wolgast of Leesburg, FL, and Gertrude Patch of Lexington, KY; children, John, William, Ruth Katherine, Austin, Benjamin, and Helen. He is also remembered as a grandfather to 8 grandchildren Margaret, Rollin, and William jr; Helen, Edward, Teresa, and Samuel; and Sarah.
McGann Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be given to the Catholic Schools Textbook Project, POB 4638, Ventura, CA 93007.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pi - Darren Aranovsky

Not a movie for the faint of heart. Violent, spooky, disturbing, and incredible.

Here the interesting thing is the coordination of number patterns.

Plato suggests that The Good is known by analogy; we approach it by studying one form after another, from particulars to generals, or from physical to patterns to consistent repeaters to Forms. I think the neo-Platonic accretion of some metaphysical realm where the perfect form of "chair" floats about for eternity is a canard. Rather, the Forms are those principle patterns from which all other form or structure emanates - descending into matter and taking on the incarnate form of crystalline structure in the material world. Not a Gnostic hatred of the physical, but rather that the physical is connected to something far far greater. That greater thing, greater even than Being qua being is The Good. To learn of it we study the Forms in their various manifestations and acquire a vision of the beauty of life's structure.

But Plato fails.

The vision he provides is magnificent and can indeed create a great hope in us of the complexity, beauty and immensity of which we are but a small part. Yet his philosophy offers no consolation for our own misery. It is little consolation to suggest that we are part of a greater beautiful pattern, or that death allows us to see what is behind these pasteboard masks, or that we can face terror (the Minotaur) gracefully. We still are in our misery. Moreover, we don't really live by philosophy, even philosophy as great as this. We live and are inspired by the knowledge that another greater than we suffered and died and endured all those things the worst of which we too endure and yet never gave in to the animalian desire to despair. Thus The Christ surpasses Socrates b/c the image of His death provides us with encouragement that another (whether in historic reality or mythological reality) was able to overcome human pain through love; to hang on to humanity and endure the worst dregs of suffering.

I've been called a neo-Platonist pagan. No. Plato is phenomenal and in many ways his philosophy surpasses the modernist philosophy of the doctrinalist Christian. But the early Church and indeed those things most powerful in the Church are themselves based on the Platonic imagery, improve it, and perfect it. Where Socrates died in a mythical peace of hemlock-induced calm, I, like the Christ, might be less fortunate. And when the time comes to call for mercy and help it will be to the Anointed one and not to the philosopher that I make moan.